One of the most common questions that we receive when on set: “What is B-Roll?” A term widely used in video production is often lost on those who aren’t used to hearing it. Because it’s now used in many styles and forms of video, you should have a firm understanding of just what exactly it is.
The phrase comes from the beginnings of filmmaking, when footage was shot on 16mm film. The “B” Roll was the second roll that was used to assist in making splices or dissolves. You know those fades that you see in video nowadays? Back in the day, they were actually hand placed on top of the “A” Roll, using actual film.
As the years went on, the phrase still stayed but evolved with the times. When the era of linear editing came around, there became an “A” and a “B” deck, with the“B” deck containing all of the extra footage. The extra footage serves as a kind of support, meaning anything that adds to or helps to enhance the main footage. This includes location shots/images pertaining to the main subject of the video.
For example, if there is a subject talking about walking down a street, one may choose to cut to footage of them actually walking down a street. That street footage would be called… (you guessed it) B-Roll. This helps the viewer to not only imagine but also to actually see what is being discussed – like putting a face to a name.
Therefore, B-Roll is all about visually enhancing your video. It can also help to hide a cut or provide a break from the main video. Using B-Roll gives the video a more dynamic look and helps to keep viewers engaged.
When you’re deciding if you want to shoot to edit or shoot for coverage, that’s when you should also decide if you’ll want B-Roll and just how much you’ll want. Some videos don’t use any B-Roll, but if you decide to use it, it’s important to (at least) have a general idea of what kind of footage you want to capture.
Here’s another example. For Ariana Skincare, we knew that B-Roll would be needed to help break up the interview and add another visual level to it. So before the shoot, we plotted out all of the B-Roll footage. This included shots of our subject working out, relaxing in her home, and walking around the park. As already discussed, this footage will only serve to enhance the video and allow viewers to see our subject in a setting beyond a simple formal interview.
Now the next time you’re on set, you can confidently answer the person that will inevitably ask the question, “What is B-Roll?”